North Carolina Inventions

By Avery Walker

North Carolina is home to arguably one of the world’s most important modern inventions: the airplane. Just about everyone in and out of our state knows the story of the Wright Brothers and their mechanic, Charlie Taylor, who worked together to accomplish the first successful controlled powered flight over the beaches of Kitty Hawk in December of 1903. This invention is so famous, it made its way onto our license plates. However, what most people do not know is that North Carolina was the birthplace of many more notable inventions. In honor of National Inventors’ Day, let’s take a look at a few of the lesser-known North Carolina inventions.

Vicks Vapor Rub
In 1891, Pharmacist Lunsford Richardson was running a drugstore in Selma, North Carolina. Richardson’s son suffered from croup, which led to Richardson developing a new salve that included menthol: a relatively unknown substance recently imported from Japan. His unique blend of ingredients reacted with body heat to create soothing vapors and increase circulation. Richardson’s Croup and Pneumonia Salve helped his son to recover, and Richardson soon began marketing the salve as Vick’s Magic Croup Salve, named after his brother-in-law, Dr. John Vick. Richardson’s son later renamed the product Vicks VapoRub, the product we are all familiar with today. A less popular “invention” Vicks can be credited for is the institution of “junk mail.” In an effort to distribute free samples to a large number of potential customers, Vicks was one of the first companies to send advertisements to millions of addresses without specifying the name of the recipient.

Although putting for fun dates back to the 1800’s in Europe, miniature golf as we know it today can thank the creative minds of two North Carolina golfers. James Wells Barber, an Englishman who emigrated to the United States in 1887, was a golf enthusiast who spent much of his free time playing the game on the celebrated Pinehurst, North Carolina courses. When building his own Pinehurst home in 1916, Barber requested the construction of a miniature 18-hole golf course in his yard. The course, which was surprisingly difficult despite its size, caused quite a stir amongst his peers and sparked an interest in miniature golf that quickly spread across the country. Nearly 40 years later, another putting enthusiast was tired of the gimmicky miniature golf courses that caused golfers to rely on luck rather than skill to complete. Don Clayton developed a careful system of par-2 holes that a skillful player had the chance to complete as a hole-in-one. His courses became the popular family pastime we know today, building over 250 official Putt-Putt Golf Courses around the world. Clayton began holding competitions at one of his courses in Fayetteville, North Carolina, sparking the advent of the Professional Putters Association in 1959. Whether you enjoy Putt-Putt as a fun pastime or a serious sport, we can thank Barber and Clayton for their contributions to one of the world’s favorite recreational activities.

Universal Product Codes
Tasked with creating a reliable way to label and scan grocery codes, a group of creative minds gathered at IBM’s offices in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina in the late 1960’s. One of these minds was IBM engineer George Laurer. Though Laurer held more than two dozen patents in his lifetime, he is most often known for his work on the coding and patterns of the Universal Product Code (UPC). Laurer built upon the earlier work of Norman Joseph Woodland, co-creator of the barcode, helping to create a symbol that would be easily read by scanners and not take up too much room on the retail product. The final result was announced in 1973, and the first pack of gum was scanned using a UPC in June of 1974.

Texas Pete
Though the name of this beloved hot sauce conjures up images of cowboys and the Lone Star State, Texas Pete was created in Winston-Salem, where it continues to be produced today. The Garner family took up the sauce-making business after running a struggling barbeque restaurant during the Great Depression. Fans of their original barbeque sauce began asking for something spicier, and so the Garner family worked together to create Texas Pete. The sauce found local success and is now one of the leading hot sauce brands in the country. The Garner family went on to establish the T.W. Garner Company of Winston Salem and produces several other sauce varieties along with Texas Pete.

Of course, these are only a few of the hundreds of inventions credited to our great state. Notable names like Pepsi, Krispy Kreme, Cheerwine, Goody’s, Gatling, and more trace their roots back to North Carolina, leading us to ask the question: what will we think of next?

One comment on “North Carolina Inventions

  1. Sylvia Walker

    Another great job of research and reporting, Miss Avery. Proud to know you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *